It’s extremely frustrating to have your credit or debit card information stolen. It’s a serious violation of privacy and it not only costs time and money, but it makes us feel unsafe while doing normal, everyday things like pumping gas or using an ATM.
One reason companies and retailers are switching to EMV cards, cards embedded with the chip, are to protect against the use of skimmers. However, there are still plenty of places that only take the magnetic strip swipe, making vulnerability to skimming a concern.
A skimmer is a tool that is utilized by thieves to steal credit and debit cards. It’s an attachment that criminals put on ATMs, gas pumps, or other places people commonly swipe their cards. Once it’s there, this tiny attachment grabs the data off the magnetic strip from your card.
The crooks then use this information to clone your card, after which they can drain your bank account, or run up huge bills and destroy your credit before you even know what happened. These classic skimming attacks aren’t going to stop, even after banks transition to the EMV chip cards—some merchants still require the magstripe and the data will still be there even with a chip.
There are ways to protect yourself from skimming. Making these simple practices second nature is a good way to ensure that you won’t be a victim of this horrible type of theft.
- Look for Tampering
When using an ATM, check for obvious signs of tampering. Check the top of the ATM, near the speakers, the side of the screen, the card reader itself, and the keyboard. If something looks unusual, such as a different color or material, graphics that aren't aligned correctly, or anything else that doesn't look right, don't use that ATM. The same is true for credit card readers.
If you’re at the bank, compare the ATMs. If they don’t look the same, don't use any of them and report it to the bank.
- Protect Your PIN
Always cover the keypad when you enter your PIN, assume someone is always looking—there could be a hidden camera. Even if you don’t see evidence of a skimmer, covering your hand when you enter your PIN is an easy and effective safety tip.
- Consider the Location
Skimmers are usually installed on ATMs that are in less trafficked locations, since they have to physically attach them and don’t want to be caught. ATMs inside of banks are usually pretty safe because of all the cameras and people. An ATM inside a grocery store is a better bet than the one outside and busy restaurants are usually pretty safe as well.
- Consider the Day
Because banks are usually closed on the weekends, and it’s more difficult to report a suspicious ATM, skimmer hits occur most often on Saturdays and Sundays. The data collected can be retrieved by the criminals before the banks reopen on Mondays. Try to get your cash for the weekend on Friday and avoid using ATMs when banks are closed.
- Don’t Swipe